Or – “Where The Heck Is My Battle Chasers #10?”
In recent weeks of the Major Spoilers Podcast TPB reviews, we’ve looked at several stories that never got a proper ending, be it due to schedules, monetary difficulties, or the attention span of a fruitfly. Some have been sublime, others ridiculous, but in all cases our enjoyment of the stories seemed to be affected by their incomplete status. It got me to thinking about how many of my favorite stories over the years never got a proper ending, appropriate closure, or even a climactic explosion where the hero skates away in triumph…
My critieria were simple: Cancellations don’t count (or else this would be all about NextWave.) Books that had long delays but eventually finished (ala Planetary) wouldn’t count, nor would a book wherein the storyline dropped but the book continued (or else we’d be all about Chris Claremont’s X-Men subplots.) There are a few selections which break even THOSE rules, but as the Great Philosopher George Carlin was heard to say, “My list? My rules. *I* make ‘em up!”
Knights On Broadway
Jim Shooter’s post-Marvel career is filled with successes both critical and financial as well as a equal number of excreble horrors. (“I am filled with gore for my lust-mate!”) After founding and then being leveraged out of Valiant Comics, Jim launched Defiant Comics only to have the whole thing burn down, fall over, and then sink into the swamp. Rather than being destroyed by this setback, Jim again regrouped and launched Broadway Comics 1995. For my money, this title was really the jewel in the Broadway line, telling the story of a little girl named Tammy, born with a genius intellect and precognition who uses her abilities to try and offset what she sees as inevitable armageddon. Tammy fakes her own death, and eventually forges a group of Knights wearing energy armor to fight off the end of the world. Tammy takes on an entertaining Merlin role here, and her assembled Knights (while possessed of AWFUL codenames like Choo-Choo) were an entertaining crew. I suspect that the sight of a two-year old destroying her home and getting slapped by her own enraged mother could be off-putting to the casual reader, but there are seeds of an epic story going on here. This faux-Round Table had all the elements that made Valiant Comics interesting, a tragic/sympathetic character who was still a Brainiac 5-style genius jerk, and a built-in traitor in BlackWhite, the Knight of Questionable Virtue. Issue #3 was just setting up all the bits and pieces when Broadway Comics went under again, but the concept of a flying Corvette alone is worth the price of admission…
The Last Galactus Story
In the 1980’s, one of the greatest joys in life was sneaking down to Carl’s Drugstore and buying issues of Epic Illustrated and Heavy Metal off the newsstand there (as well as Root Beer Barrel candy and chocolate sodas.) Carl either didn’t know that the books were adult in nature, believed that a 6 foot fat kid could be an awkward 18 rather than a greasy 15 and a 1/2, or just flat didn’t care. Later issue of Epic Illustrated included this tale, drawn by John Byrne at what I believe to be the peak of his artistic powers, taking off from his mega-successful run on Fantastic Four. In the distant future, the Eater of Worlds arrives back on an Earth, now devoid of life. He actually stops for a moment to think of the noble creatures who used to live on this planet before finally getting to EAT THE EARTH. On-panel, no less. Galactus and Nova travel through an aged universe and find that entire galaxies are disappearing due to a mysterious entity who turns out to be as old as the Big G himself. The story never ended, though John Byrne has presented at least two variations upon the ending that I have read. The use of the strikingly-designed Nova as a central character, and the wonderful sense of age and gravitas that Byrne gives Galactus make me wish that he could have finished the story. In fact, at one point, there were supposedly plans to complete the tale as part of the regular FF book, which sadly never came to be. The last information that I can glean indicates that even JB considers this to be a dead issue, a shame given that it was the highlight of later issues of Epic.
My experiences with Image Comics circa 1993 were mixed, to say the least. I bought Youngblood #1, and to this day maintain that they can keep my money, I just want those seven minutes back. But there were nuggets of gold scattered among the coin-shap condom wrappers, one of which came when Alan Moore teamed up with Don “Megaton Man” Simpson, Jim “normalman” Valentino, and the artists who co-created his runs on Swampt Thing and Watchmen to give us this love letter to 60’s Marvel Comics in particular, and action comics in particular. The six-issue series was supposed to be followed by a 1963 Annual which tied the book into the contemporary Image Universe and promised to explain several of the series’ central mysteries. There were reportedly personal issues with the creators (reports due differ, and Alan Moore is pretty much silent on the subject) and as recently as last year, there were plans for a reprint of the series at Dynamite, but reports are that these too have fallen through. With creator Steven Bissette planning to take his characters and shoot at self-publishing, we will likely never know the final fate of N-Man, the Tomorrow Syndicate, Johnny Beyond and the rest. Given that this was really the book that first convinced me that Image (now the home of beloved books like Invincible, Walking Dead, Proof and more) was more than just a bunch of guys redrawing various X-Men over and over again, but an honest-to-Spawn publishing house that would eventually become one of the most important publishers of the decade. I still don’t understand what Shaft was doing in the final issue, but it’s may be the only appearance of the character that I’ve ever bought with my own money…
Lost In Space – Voyage To The Bottom Of The Soul
The original Innovation Lost In Space series started out less than spectacularly, seemingly devoted more to cheesecake shots of the Robinson daughters than to any actual semblance of plot. But when Bill Mumy (the boy who played Will Robinson in the original show) joined the creative team, things went to a different extreme. Calling upon plot threads back to the series original pilot, Mumy crafted a tale of danger and pathos for the Robinsons, giving Will Robinson some age, Doctor Smith some depth, and giving Don and Judy the happy ending they deserved (sort of.) This series began with the Jupiter II making it’s way to Alpha Centauri, only to find that they are expected. A vengeful alien throws them through time and space, leading to a wonderful bit of character where Papa Robinson ends up playing masked adventurer in a town that seems very familiar (a sequence written as a nod to the actor who played Robinson, who also played Zorro back in the day.) Innovation went under before the book could be completed, and though it was collected in trade form, I have yet to find a copy of the book for a price that I can afford to pay. This book gives even the silliest characters a depth and respect that makes the whole thing resonat that much more, and a sequence where Will and Smith make their way back home only to find that they’re trapped in their own past right after a nuclear war is a punch in the gut.
All-Star Batman And Robin
While I’m not necessarily a fan of the man and his work, Stephen has slowly converted me to the joys of Frank Miller’s recent take on the Goddamn Batman mythos in this title. Early issues threw me by being testosterone-fueled, excessively violent and overtly sexual in an immature way, but those can also be construed as GOOD things. When Batman and Black Canary finish a fight by boinking each other senseless in the moonlight, this book revealed it to be a glorious parody, the kind of wicked commentary not seen since Keith David and Roddy Piper slugged it out for 10 minutes over a pair of sunglasses. The thing that must be taken into consideration here is that the All-Star books don’t share continuity with each other, but Miller insists that this book is in the same universe as his Dark Knight and Dark Knight 2 stories, and DC editorial has even named this world Earth-31. Due to additional commitments on the part of artist Jim Lee, ASBAR saw greater and greater delays in it’s publishing schedule, and recent reports out of DC indicate that the book will be returning as “Dark Knight: Boy Wonder” in the near future. I don’t know if this will entail a reboot, or a continuation, but it seems like DC’s All-Star publishing line has gone by the wayside anyway. It’s a beautiful, ludicrous series, as befits the character, and features a Batman whom I honestly believe is written in intentional, conscious parody of Miller’s own writing. Stephen and I don’t always agree on humor in comics, but this one is an equally must-read title for Bat-fans and Bat-detractors alike.
Matt Wagner is a comic creator who could write Bazooka Joe with art by a nine-year old and entice me to spend money on a book, so this is a natural for me. The story of Kevin Matchstick starts simple (a young man meets a wizard, gets a magical baseball bat, and has to fight evil) and turns into an Arthurian epic. Featuring wonderful character work, some incredible artwork (Edsel in her formal gown is an incredible image that’s burned into my mind to this day) and a twist that I didn’t see coming, the book got even more interesting (and metatextual) in it’s second volume “The Hero Defined.” Matt Wagner’s signature creation (I consider this to be a more personal work that Grendel, even though the latter has more published issues) doesn’t just look like his creator, his life follows a path that is defined by Wagner’s. When Matt got married, Kevin met a woman. Kevin’s companions in the second volume are based on his friends and fellow comics professionals, but the story itself is just as engaging as the first volume. This one is kind of a cheat, as volumes one and two of the book are separated by nearly 13 years, and Matt Wagner has repeatedly promised that the final volume (“The Hero Denied”) is a work in progress, rather than a lost treasure. I actually fell across this series by accident, but I always recommend it to anyone looking to get into comics who might not be comfortable with the costumed hero motif. This book is one of my earliest experiences with the anticipation of what comes next, as well as one of the longest waits for the next issue, and marks one of the most well-rounded comic reading experiences of my collection.
The Shadow (1987)
This one is also a little bit of a cheat, in that we covered it in a previous issue of the MSP, and were highly divided over it’s merits, but this oh-so-80’s revamp of a character whose genesis is so tied to a previous decade is an amazing chunk of story. By taking the Shadow out of his timeframe, DC made him even scarier, and the wacked out antics of this series can’t be beat for WTH moments. When The Shadow’s head is cut off, then attached to a robot body, you’ll goggle at the awesomeness, but then we’re given the revelation that eternal nemesis Shiwan Khan is ALSO a murderous cyborg, and we’re set up for a killer beatdown… that never occurs. The licensors of the character reportedly pulled the plug on this iteration of Lamont Cranston for being too out there, but it doesn’t change the fact that it makes for some great comics. Seeing the Shadow recast as a manipulative bastard, his agents living in dual fear/worship of him, and a return to the brutality seen in the earliest pulps make for a fascinating experience, and the art of Kyle Baker makes it unforgettable. This series, among all of the books here, will probably NEVER be acknowledged, reprinted, or even admitted to by the offices of Street and Smith, which saddens me somehow. A book that took the character both completely and not at all seriously AT THE SAME TIME should be heralded, if only as an experiment that didn’t lead to the results they wanted. This book was ahead of it’s time, prefacing as it does stories like Batman RIP, Final Crisis, All-Star Batman and other books that strike a strange (and not always successful) stride across the line of self-importance into real art…
This one is probably also a cheat, as it was cancelled due too poor reception… But, since it was solicited as a 12-issue maxiseries, I think it still counts as a book that ended early without anything resembling closure. Granted, this was the DC of 1988 we’re talking about, the home of things like Skreemer, Slash Maraud and Outcasts. In a way, it was the precursor to what would soon become Vertigo. Sonic Disruptors is a futuristic nihilistic tale of a world gone entirely corporate, wherein the only vestiges of freedom come from an orbital pirate radio station run by a DJ called Shiek Rattle Enroll. A guy who looked like Elvis made appearances, and the whole thing read like a Hunter Thomspson fever dream as transcribed by the bass player from Ratt. The image of Lincoln’s Memorial wearing wire-shades and sporting a giant guitar is the most pervasive image from this series, one that own creator describes as “a dud. I had NO idea what I was doing.” Coming as it does from Mike Baron, the mind behind Nexus and Badger (both of which are pretty much full of outrageous concepts that SHOULDN’T work, but somehow do) I still wonder how the battle against an evil theocracy (80’s chic, dammit!) was all supposed to play out, and whether we’d get the climactic riot in the streets to the strains of the MTV theme song in the final issue. It’s notoriously bad for a reason, but it’s ‘Plan 9′ bad, not ‘Jennifer-Garner-Is-Elektra’ bad. I have always wondered if somebody wouldn’t be able to repackage this as a trade and make some bank off those of us who are still wondering.
Another appearance by Alan Moore (though not the last) on the list, Big Numbers represents one of the books that I don’t entirely understand, yet love anyway. Chaos theory, fractals and the Mandelbrot set are the middle of a story that Bill Sienkiewicz was born to draw, but various real world issues (money, art delays and a reported scam by a replacement artist, if I understand the situation correctly) caused the whole thing to be torpedoed after only two issues. Alan himself has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t even think that the story could BE completed as a comic book, which makes me very sad given how fascinating the portion of the story that we saw was. Rumors of uncompleted scans of issue #3 on the internet abound, but I’ve been unsuccessful in finding them. As with many Alan Moore projects, reading it fills me with jealousy, but a fascination with the language used. Of all the stories here, this on fills me with the most ennui and regret for what it could have been (probably because it’s the least likely to ever end up completed.) Big Numbers could have been Lost before Lost was Lost, with it’s sprawling cast, subplots aplenty, and strange digressions that may or may not lead to an explanation of everything that has occurred. The only bigger disappointment for me leads to my choice for the undisputed #1 slot on the list…
Is there a bigger disappointment than this books unavailability? Is there a bigger cluster#@$* than the endless wrangling over the rights? Alan Moore took a minor British Captain Marvel clone and created something that redefined superhumans (and, incidentally, did it FIRST.) This series takes you across the depth and breadth of human experience (Liz Moran gives birth on panel in issue #8, something that apparently had distributors in an uproar back in the day) and takes superheroes to one of the logical extremes. The brutality of issue #16 (John Totleben gives us utter chaos as Miracleman fights his former sidekick through the streets of London, leaving the city awash in blood and fire) is still unmatched in comics, and the influcence of the comic is seen in the most mainstream of comics (*coughSentrycough*). Alan Moore, and later Neil Gaiman, took us places that comic books had never been before, and even 20 years later, this book is full of “lightning igniting a burning bush” comic moments. Even though Marvel’s acquisition of the Marvelman character is pretty much a big tease, it’s exciting to hope that their money and influence can finally be the bludgeon that unsnarls the tangle of rights issues and gets this story back into print, so that we can all whine about how disappointed we are in the way it finished. I often play the “I read the original issues” game, but collecting Miracleman was more of a task than most comic series… Issue #24 of this book is the only comic since I got married that I broke my personal Single Issue Spending Ceiling for, and I don’t regret it for a moment.
If you thought that Knights On Broadway was obscure, welcome to Matthew-land. This book isn’t really a great one, but it’s one of the first times that I can remember having a book disappear out from under me. Before the speculator boom of the 90’s, there was the black and white boom of the 80’s, spinning out of successful titles like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cerebus. Hot Comics doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, but I seem to recall it being the first work from Kelley Jones and Barry Crain, names that may not mean anything to you. This book introduced a huge mess of characters, puts them in a strange setting, and makes ‘em fight. That’s not really so groundbreaking, but the thing that sells it is the joy with which two rival armies are thrown into place and characters jockey for position and attention. It’s wonderful chaos, and issue #2 adds to the pot with a possible turncoat character in the mix… It has a lot of Secret Wars in it, actually, and I’m still wondering what happened in the never published issue #3. Much like your first girlfriend, it may not be as perfect as you remember, but you’ll ALWAYS remember her fondly. This series is doubly awesome in that it was initially titled The Saturday Knights (though I suspect the publishers of Southern Knights might have put the kibosh on that.) Still, if you own the rights to this title, and you want to tell me about issue #3, you can hit me up here at Major Spoilers… I’m dying to know, even 25 years later.